Nigeria’s Islamist group Boko Haram and state security forces may be guilty of crimes against humanity in the three years of a conflict that has claimed at least 2,800 lives, New York-based Human Rights Watch said.
Boko Haram, which says it’s fighting to impose Islamic law in Nigeria, “has callously murdered people while they pray at church services in northern Nigeria,” Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said today in an e-mailed statement. “It has also gunned down Muslims who openly oppose the group’s horrific violence.”
While the Nigerian government has rarely tried people responsible for the violence, the security forces “have killed hundreds of Boko Haram suspects and other members of the public with no apparent links to the group,” it said. The military denies the accusations.
Over the past three years, Boko Haram’s attacks in the mainly Muslim north and the capital, Abuja, have killed more than 1,500 people, HRW said. Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for bombings and gun attacks on churches and government buildings, and the killing of police, soldiers, officials, and Muslims who disagree with the group.
In addition to these attacks, “the group has forced Christian men to convert to Islam on pain of death and has assassinated Muslim clerics and traditional leaders in the north for allegedly speaking out against its tactics or for cooperating with authorities to identify group members,” HRW said in the report.
Responding to attacks by the group, the Joint Military Task Force, in charge of security in the region, “has engaged in excessive use of force, physical abuse, secret detentions, extortion, burning of houses, stealing money during raids, and extrajudicial killings of suspects,” the rights group said.
The extrajudicial killing of the group’s founder, Mohammed Yusuf, and other group members in 2009 became “a rallying cry for the group’s subsequent violent campaign,” it said. Government corruption, police brutality, inter-communal violence and poverty, which is more severe in the north, are among the problems that provide a fertile environment for Boko Haram to recruit.
The military in Borno state, Boko Haram’s birthplace, “has no record of extrajudicial killings,” Sagir Musa, a spokesman for the Joint Force in the region, said by phone today from Maiduguri, the state capital. “The Nigerian army is not trained to kill innocent civilians, but to protect them, and that’s what they’ve been doing.”
President Goodluck Jonathan in January called the insurgency a more serious threat to Africa’s biggest-oil producer than the 1967-1970 Biafran civil war.
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